Schools need to take dependence on legal drugs seriously


Schools need to better educate students on the dangers of addictions to legal substances — namely “smart drugs” such as Ritalin and Adderall. The Fulcrum, the University of Ottawa’s student newspaper’s recent article, “Can pills make you smarter?” only further proved this point.

The article took a look at the growing culture of students abusing amphetamines in order to stay ahead of the academic curve and cope with the various stresses of university life. It also brought to light students who will drink copious amounts of coffee or energy drinks and then use the aid of sleeping pills to get to sleep.

The problem is that the article neglects to discuss or even mention in passing any of the potential health risks involved with these activities. The only “issue” the article brought forth was whether or not the use of these substances was comparable to cheating.

A Dalhousie social work student, formerly a community advisor (CA) at the University of Ottawa, tiptoed around the health issue, only stating that it was more important for us to ask why students felt they needed the assistance of these stimulants.

I fully understand that for a Don or CA to comment on this issue as a health issue is technically to impose his or her values on their students.
It is perfectly acceptable that a Don not express his or her viewpoints on, say, homosexuality or abortion in front of their first-years.

However, a general concern for safety should be universal, regardless of your views on legal matters. For example, two years ago, my Don encouraged us to moderate our drinking regardless of whether or not we were legal drinking age, work out regularly and eat healthy.

Yes, they were “his values,” but it was completely harmless advice that was in the interest of our health and safety. So when it comes to the matter of students overstimulating themselves with potentially dangerous prescription drugs, school advisors need to step in.

Various medical tests have actually concluded very little about Ritalin and Adderall’s effectiveness as stimulants. However, there are a number of potential side effects which are less than desirable — including long-term insomnia, depression, schizophrenia, paranoia and a large risk of dependency.

This “dependency” is not a mental/emotional dependency; it is a chemical reaction — an addiction not unlike to hard drugs.

The drugs are also exceptionally dangerous when combined with alcohol, which is a dangerous risk to take in a university setting. Oddly enough, at Counselling Services and Health Services, you are asked about your smoking and drinking habits and whether or not you take “street drugs” — marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. No questions are ever posed about whether or not you take legal amphetamines or how much coffee you drink.

For all these services know, a student could be suffering from side effects or withdrawal symptoms from these perfectly legal activities, but the doctor might not make that connection unless it’s brought up.

And because excessive consumption of these substances is so “normalized,” many students would not think to bring up.

Oscar winner Heath Ledger died at the age of twenty-eight as a result of abusing prescription medications. Ledger was taking an array of stimulants and relaxants, but each one of them was legal and prescribed to him by a doctor.

Dons, community advisors and residence life area co-ordinators should absolutely be aware of the health risks that come with amphetamine abuse and be able to recognize the signs that a student is addicted to them.

Instead of simply hemming and hawing and vapidly asking why students are so pressured in school, they should be teaching their students that you can get through school without depending on pills.

After all, these leaders are trained to, say, smell marijuana smoke and discipline a student for smoking it.

One proactive thing that schools and residences can do is to hold seminars — mandatory for first-years — on the dangers of these substances and how to manage stress without the aid of “smart drugs.”

Students need to be properly educated on this subject and know that just because something is prescribed does not mean it isn’t potentially dangerous.

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